Tiger Roll etched his place in history with a fine performance to win the Grand National at Aintree in April. Gordon Elliott’s charge capped the end to his campaign with a brilliant display to claim the ultimate prize in racing.
No horse has won back-to-back Nationals since the legendary Red Rum accomplished the feat in 1975. Therefore, there will be a huge challenge ahead of Elliott to prepare the Irish horse for the contest, with endurance and fitness perhaps being more important than form ahead of the event.
One For Arthur was the defending champion from 2017, but he was ruled out of the running after suffering an injury. However, Lucinda Russell’s charge will be one of a number of contenders determined to knock Tiger Roll off his perch for the race next year.
We’ll now break down the leading horses that will be vying to get into form when the National Hunt resumes in October.
The Irish horse began his charge for the National at the end of the 2016/17 term when he appeared at Cheltenham Festival. Tiger Roll was put forward by Elliott in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase with Lisa O’Neill in the saddle.
The seven-year-old had issues in the race as he fell off the pace in the early stages due to a couple of mistakes.
However, Tiger Roll managed to rally to find his rhythm at the crucial stage of the race, pulling away down the stretch to claim the victory by three lengths ahead of his compatriot Missed Approach.
He failed to rise to the occasion at the Irish Grand National, pulling up at the 10th fence, ending his campaign on a low note.
Tiger Roll started the new season with a one-mile race, and, although he was off the pace of the winner, he still finished second in unfamiliar meet conditions in the John Shortt Legends Challenge Race.
Back over two miles in the M.W. Hickey Memorial Chase, he was slightly off the pace at Wexford as he failed to match the speed of A Genie In Abottle in the closing stages. The Irish horse struggled for rhythm at the Clonmel Oil Chase and pulled up two fences from the end of the race.
Matters did not improve over three miles for the bay gelding, placing down in fifth at the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham well behind the leading pack. However, he was outstanding for the main event after a three-month break.
Tiger Roll delivered a perfect performance at Cheltenham Festival in the Glenfarclas Chase, holding his composure over the three-mile race, finishing comfortably ahead of The Last Samuri, among others.
As a result of his performance at Cheltenham, his odds for the National were slashed down to as low as 10/1. He was still considered an inferior prospect to Total Recall, but would prove his quality with another brilliant performance.
Davy Russell ensured that his charge cleared every fence, whereas others struggled on an inconsistent turf. Tiger Roll kicked on to put the pressure on his rivals and he had just enough pace down the final straight of the meet to beat out Pleasant Company by a head.
Tiger Roll and Elliott now have the ultimate test ahead of them, with the latest odds backing him at 20/1 to win the National for a second year on the bounce.
ONE FOR ARTHUR
The 2017 champion missed out on the chance to defend his crown. Russell’s charge suffered an injury before the start of the National Hunt campaign and the decision was made to forego the term to prevent further damage of a tendon in the right leg.
Therefore, One For Arthur will have to build his form once again to make a challenge at the National.
His previous run to the crown was a slow burn, as one of his few appearances at Aintree before the triumph ended up in the bay gelding pulling up early in the race at the Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle.
The seven-year-old found some form towards the end of the 2015/16 season but did not look like a horse capable of making a charge for the National in the following campaign.
Russell’s charge was able to kick off his term in perfect fashion at the EDF-ER Handicap Chase at Kelso. One For Arthur was the favourite for the race and duly delivered with Derek Fox in the saddle, ending a six-race drought without a victory.
He entered the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase with momentum, although he was considered one of the outside contenders for the event.
The bay gelding still put forward a decent outing and was in the leading group, but he did not have the pace down the stretch to beat out his rivals, finishing in fifth in a tight race.
In One For Arthur’s final race before the National at Warwick, he put in one of the best displays of his career.
Once again he was not fancied by the bookmakers ahead of the event, but Fox was able to get the best out of his charge, pulling clear of the pack two fences from the end of the meet. The bay gelding closed out the race to secure the victory by six lengths ahead of Goodtoknow.
Russell’s charge had momentum ahead of the ultimate test and with Fox in the saddle, he passed with flying colours over the four miles of the event.
The Irish horse was steady throughout but gradually moved through the field after passing Becher’s Brook for the second time. He made his charge into the lead at the final fence and was able to pull away to win by a comfortable margin.
One For Arthur has the talent, although he will need race action to justify his odds of 25/1 at present.
The Irish horse almost beat out Tiger Roll down the stretch for the crown, missing out by a head. He has finished in the top 10 of the last two appearances at the National, therefore he’s a strong contender to compete for the crown once again in 2019.
Pleasant Company began his push for the National with a decent performance at the Goffs Thyestes Handicap Chase with Ruby Walsh in the saddle, placing fourth in the contest.
Willie Mullins’ charge was the favourite for his next outing at the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. It was a straight battle between the Irish horse and his compatriot Thunder And Roses, but the bay gelding had enough pace to clinch the victory by half a length.
He was one of the leading contenders for the National, although it was not a clean performance from Mullins’ charge as he struggled to find rhythm on the course. Pleasant Company placed off the pace in ninth, well out of contention for the win.
After a lengthy period out of action, he returned just after Christmas at Leopardstown and it proved to be a difficult afternoon for the Irish horse as he placed in 14th out of 28 competitors.
Life did not improve in the defence of his Goffs Thyestes Handicap Chase title at Gowran Park as he pulled up three fences before the end of the meet, ending a mediocre outing.
As a result of his poor form, Pleasant Company was considered a rank outsider for the National. However, the 10-year-old proved his form with a resilient performance battling through the conditions and gaining strength as the race concluded.
He made a surge to catch Tiger Roll on the final straight, but he just lacked the pace to beat him at the line. There’s talent there with odds of 25/1 to win the 2019 National and it could be worth a punt given his last outing at Aintree.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*